Rwanda Ranked Last in Media Freedom in East Africa According to RSF 2024 Report

In the most recent assessment by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Rwanda has been placed at the bottom of the East African Community (EAC) in terms of press freedom. This placement comes as part of a global analysis, positioning Rwanda 144th out of 180 countries studied. The RSF’s annual report, titled “Journalism Under Political Pressure,” released on May 3, 2024, the World Press Freedom Day established by the United Nations, shows a global landscape where journalism is under threat from those supposed to protect it.

According to the report, Rwanda has seen a significant decline, dropping 13 places from its previous position, scoring 40.55 out of 100. This backslide is mirrored by a 7.6 percent decrease in its overall score, focusing on five primary criteria: politics, economics, law, societal, and security environments. Particularly, Rwanda’s political and legal frameworks scored barely over 50 percent, indicating severe restrictions in these areas.

The RSF report accuses the Rwandan government, led by President Paul Kagame since his post-genocide accession to power, of using the country’s history as a justification to control the media. This control extends to most broadcast channels being state-owned or influenced by stakeholders affiliated with the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR). Moreover, the predominance of non-political content on radios, such as sports and music, is seen as a strategy to avoid confrontation with the authorities.

Despite the government’s stance, which often contests such reports as outdated, the RSF illustrates a grim picture for journalists in Rwanda. It notes that no journalists have been killed this year; however, two are currently imprisoned. The environment is described as increasingly oppressive since President Kagame’s third term election in August 2017, with media owners coerced into pledging allegiance to the state, and many journalists forced into “patriotic” re-education programs or political party membership.

The RSF’s criticism extends to the economic aspects of journalism in Rwanda. The advertising market is minimal, predominantly because of the lack of a robust private sector independent of government influence. The organization also highlights that corruption within the media is an ongoing issue, with some journalists reportedly receiving bribes to alter their reporting.

Concerns over the future of press freedom in Rwanda remain substantial, with RSF and other human rights organizations observing an environment where young journalists frequently opt for safer, better-paying jobs in corporate communications rather than facing the risks associated with investigative journalism.

In contrast to Rwanda, Tanzania has shown significant improvement, ranking 97th globally and leading in press freedom within the EAC. It has climbed 46 places, reflecting better conditions for journalists. Other countries in the region, such as Uganda and Kenya, are also noted for their positions and recent improvements in the RSF rankings.

As for international perspectives, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland top the global list for press freedom, highlighting a stark contrast to the situation in Rwanda and some of its neighbors.

The Rwandan government has yet to respond to the specifics of the 2024 RSF report, but historical responses suggest a probable dismissal of the findings. Meanwhile, voices like those of Sadibou Marong, RSF’s director for Sub-Saharan Africa, call for urgent actions to improve media freedom in Rwanda, highlighting the critical state of press freedom as an ongoing and severe issue.